Education = Less People
Education = Less People

Education = Less People

As part of my studies in the Asia Pacific Leadership Program in Honolulu, we have to come up with questions surrounding what we deem to be important regional core issues (RCI). The following piece was produced in late September in relation to my RCI question: “Is education the key to lowering high birth rates in developing countries and reducing global population problems?”

During our Discussion Group last week about Risk, it was interesting to see where global population growth will mostly come from over the next 39 years – developing countries (see graph below, taken from the Understanding Risk reading, Page 20).

The stress this growth will put on the planet, its creatures, environments and our ability to produce and distribute adequate food and water for these people will no doubt be one of humanity’s greatest challenges.

Populations in developed countries between now and 2050 pretty much stays steady. These countries have much more advanced and accessible education systems whose students typically go on to have few children, typically about two per couple according to most global studies. It’s logical to then suggest that education is the most effective tool to lowering high birth rates in developing countries and reducing global population problems.

While many organizations, governments and NGOs spend millions of dollars each year on food, water management, environmental and other programs in developing countries, these bodies should focus all their energies on educating the struggling masses far and wide. Educate them at basic and universally deserved levels: primary and secondary. As they learn math, language, social studies and basic sciences, it will empower them to think about other issues, grapple with them and contextualize larger issues such as population growth and the stress it puts on the planet and more importantly their communities.

Population growth and the basic stress its growth places on the planet and everyone’s accessibility to food and water is paramount to our survival as a species. Radically redefining how all Earth’s citizens understand this issue is our duty and the most effective tool to do so is by providing basic education to all as quickly as possible. Our future literally depends on it.


  1. tkuipers

    I think you’re confusing correlation with causation.

    Opportunities, especially those provided by human density and freedom, provide create wealth. Wealth allows for improvements in education. Freedom in a society also provides opportunity o move from agrarian, pastoral work – where large families can be helpful – to other work, where large families are not helpful. Additionally wealth significantly improves the changes of children living past infancy, further curbing parents’ need to procreate more, merely to improve the average. Further, the freedom that spawns wealth brings with it a wide variety of prophylactics, relatively cheaply dispensed, along with the simple knowledge on how to use them.

    I’d suggest that what you really need is to advocate for freedom for the poor of the world. Prosperity and education will follow, leading to a significant reduction in birth rates as we see in the OECD and those countries moving that way in wealth.

    In the last century the proportion of people who die from starvation and war has dropped. In the past 60 years the absolute number of people affected by these has dropped.

    So, how do you hold true that more people is a bad thing?

  2. scottcoates


    Good stuff and I agree with all your points.
    Freedom is the baseline and key for anyone to develop and prosper anywhere in the world.
    There’s no doubt that freedom then brings the ability to grow, prosper, end up in jobs that require fewer children, buy condoms, etc.

    While all these are true, education provides an equal base for struggling, impoverished, not-free individuals to empower themselves. With even a basic education, such individuals begin to think beyond their immediate situation, question leadership, ponder other alternatives and seeds for ground-level change are thereby planted.

    No doubt that once you have a base-level amount of freedom and wealth it leads to prosperity and makes lower birth rates possible. But, some education is the initial building block that gets all that started.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. tkuipers

    It’s only if you assume that the primary problem (in a particular situation) with these people is that they are uneducated that you can assume that education is the answer.

    To be fair, if it’s an “awareness” issue, public service media campaigns can help immensely. We saw those same kind of campaigns have an effect in Canada WRT littering in the 60s and 70s, condom use for STDs in the 90s, et al. They were quite effective.

    But, it is very important to distinguish the difference between education as we see it in the west – grade 1 to 12 with post-secondary as a possibility – and education campaigns. Remember that education of the schooling for the masses type, came about as wealth increased, and children were no longer needed for the farm, or labour for additional household income. Education did not come first – and in those situations where governments forced mandatory education before prosperity increased, education often increased poverty by making a huge portion of the population legally idle. Without broad based prosperity to sustain educational organizations they wither quickly. Loads of examples from Africa and Latin America exist where lots of money is pored into educational infrastructure, which falls into disuse when:
    – teachers cannot be well paid
    – parents cannot afford the education tax or fees
    – students find that even with this new education their prospects have not changed).

    (Don’t forget a lot of the mandatory education/anti-child labour laws that came about in the west in the 19th and early 20th centuries were heavily supported by unions looking to keep lower cost labour out of the pool.)

    Your Quote:

    “But, some education is the initial building block that gets all that started.”

    Is not true at all. Education, in the broad sense, only becomes possible when prosperity rises – and prosperity comes through opportunity afforded by freedom.

    There is this idea in the West along these lines: The middle class is educated so to make more people middle class we need more education. The same thing happened with housing in the US over the past couple of decades: The middle class owns their own home, so to make more middle class people let’s get more people owning homes.

    The problem with this is that home ownership, like education is a symptom of prosperity, not a seeder of prosperity. There is a virtuous cycle that education (and even home ownership) provides to help drive more prosperity, but again, it’s important to understand the carrying capacity of an economy for education before creating educational programs. (And, the best way to test the carrying capacity is through a transparent and free market).

    It’s also important to not merely believe that experts in understanding education are also those that can deduce problems and provide broad-based, government run solutions to a very dynamic problem.

  4. scottcoates


    Well articulated and again, I agree with most of your points here. You’re clearly much better informed in such things and do a wonderful job of looking at multiple angles.

    There’s no argument that prosperity does enable and lead to education as we in the west know it. I’m under no illusion that we can just ‘kerplunk’ western-style and western-quality education systems in the developing world.

    Awareness is no doubt an issue, but in the developing nations we’re talking about, funds would be better spent on education, rather than PR initiatives to promote education.

    My main and only point is that education, in some form, offered to as many people as possible, serves as a spark that leads to a small fire, can spread and go from there. A population kept ignorant is easier to control, easier to keep down and allows dictators and nefarious types to keep their populations down even longer. Giving people even a basic education opens their minds, gets them talking, spreading ideas and is the initial spark that leads to full-on development, prosperity and lower birth rates as you’ve pointed out.

    Thanks for your comments Todd.

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